28 January 1967 – 27 July 2018
Professor Bongani Mayosi served as Head of the Department of Internal Medicine from 2006 to 2015 and Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Cape Town (UCT) until his untimely passing on Friday, 27 July 2018. He was an academic leader of great distinction, a brilliant cardiologist, a globally recognised clinical scientist and a well-loved teacher.
He graduated with distinction in medicine from the then University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal), prior to joining Groote Schuur Hospital and UCT, where he undertook postgraduate training in medicine and cardiology. He then proceeded to the University of Oxford, where he was awarded a PhD in genetics, and this heralded the start of his stellar research achievements. The values which underpinned his academic endeavours were a deep concern for promoting health equity through addressing the health problems of the poor; advocating for the intellectual capital of clinical science as a fundamental contribution to national development; and giving priority to Africa. His focus was addressing poverty-related heart diseases through advancing the understanding of genetics of cardiovascular traits, the treatment of tuberculous pericarditis, and the prevention of rheumatic fever.
To this end, he raised over R250 million in research funding and produced over 300 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books, resulting in an h-index of 65 (Google Scholar) and a multitude of awards. In South Africa, these included a National Research Foundation (NRF) A-rating, membership of the Academy of Science of South Africa, and prestigious awards from both the NRF and the South African Medical Research Council. Such recognition from peers, as well as appointments to national positions, attested to his stature as a scholar of high repute.
In particular, his fierce advocacy for research was exemplary, with his clarion call for “1 000 PhDs” to bloom, first expressed at his inaugural lecture in 2007, leading to his efforts to achieve this by focusing on the national health, science and higher education sectors. This had great impact and recognition included his National Research Foundation Award for Transforming the Science Cohort in South Africa, his appointment as the inaugural chair of the National Health Research Committee and the award of South Africa’s highest honour, the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver, for excellent contributions to medical science. All of these speak volumes to the application of his scholarship to national development.
His academic leadership was widely recognised and respected by peers way beyond South Africa’s borders, and he established strong connections in the global south as well as in the global north, thus placing the faculty on a firm footing on the world stage. He enjoyed collaborations with colleagues in institutions across the length and breadth of Africa, where his roles as past president of the Pan-African Society of Cardiology (PASCAR) and chair of the WHO African Advisory Committee on Health Research and Development strengthened his contribution to research and development through substantive engagement with academic institutions and colleagues, which was one of the hallmarks of his scholarship.
Further afield, his establishment of partnerships with prestigious institutions in the global north as well, earned him recognition as a Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences; a Fellow of both the American College of Cardiology and the World Academy of Arts and Science; Honorary Fellowship of Wolfson College, Oxford; and numerous invitations to deliver keynote addresses at conferences across the world. As recently as October 2017, he was elected as an international member of the esteemed National Academy of Sciences of the United States. Of note is that these global contributions have secured substantive relationships which will endure well into the future.
Above all, his track record as an academic leader here at home, at UCT, is legendary, and is characterised by extensive involvement in nurturing others and incomparable leadership stamina: inevitably, his day would start before dawn, end way after sunset, and weekends would not be spared. And yet he was able to achieve a work–life balance which saw him in the supermarket, at school fundraisers, and enjoying dancing when an opportunity presented itself.
Professor Mayosi had a special ability to spot talent, and support career pathing and development, all the while mentoring, coaching and encouraging. His insight and initiative were not only applied to his own field of interest and responsibility, but went beyond that to activities such as advocating for the establishment of national clinical specialist fellowships as well as securing academic leadership projects on the global academic platform, to name just a few.
He had a clear understanding of the transformation agenda and the strategies needed for change. His approach towards building a cohort of academics, practitioners and leaders in clinical science not only led to a change in the demographic representation, but also ensured that such transformative efforts deliver people who are competent, academically excellent and themselves capable of cascading this approach.
Furthermore, his transformative efforts targeted the other facets of transforming academic health sciences, from his own focus on rheumatic heart disease, a formerly neglected condition burdening the poor, to strengthening partnerships with historically disadvantaged institutions, such as Walter Sisulu University.
He has been described as “a lovable and much-loved colleague;” “an amazing person with a beautiful way”; “someone who has made me realise that life is short. You must shape your own destiny”; and an “inspirational human being”.
And from postgraduate students: “He asked us about our ambitions ... he guided me through the entire process until my research paper was published. I was mostly taken by the degree of faith the man had in me, in my personal life I had never experienced such approval.” And …“I also came to realise that not only is he a prominent academic and a good teacher and trainer, but that he was a well-respected father and husband. It is a blessing for youth to have a father of such capabilities or to have found a father figure to help mould that energy they possess.”
A son of the soil, Bongani was a wonderful human being, a brilliant academic leader who held his own against the greatest in the world, who went out of his way to recognise and affirm even the smallest people in his work environment, and who will always be remembered as a beloved dean. His gigantic legacy will live through the lives of all who were privileged to be touched, nurtured and inspired by him.
Our hearts go out to his family, his friends and his colleagues.
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